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I for one am glad to have you with us.
— OllieGarkey

I am here because of my father.

"Sure, we all are," you think-respond.

No. I am here because of my father. Not because he helped make me but because of what he did after.

I am here because when I was a child, and as I grew into not a child, my father said this to me as much as he said anything else:

Do a proper job.
He didn't tell me to win or be the best. He didn't tell me to try my hardest. He didn't tell me to let the girl win the game on that date.

Do a proper job. Judge what the situation calls for, and do it.

As years became decades, I understood more.

I published my first diary almost six years ago. I registered on this site to do that and nothing else.

Why? Because a year and change earlier, I heard of that massacre in my Shakespeare class. The teacher talked as much about Shakespeare as anything else, which is to say that he talked about literature as being about people and emotions and how they interact and deal with situations.

I don't remember why he brought up My Lai, but he did. He had a thick handout on the massacre, and as I read, ...


How do you do that?

Kill like that?

 ... how?

 ... and if the students in my class didn't know about this horror, how many others at my college didn't know?

I was writing for the college Internet magazine, so I resolved to write an article on the anniversary of the massacre, which was impending.

That week, we didn't publish because the site was down. My timely and informative article was now useless, and I would be graduating before the anniversary came around again.

Do a proper job.
I joined this site to publish that article. I had no intention of writing anything else. Two hundred fifty-six diaries later, ... funny how things change.

About two and a half years later, I was news editor of a newspaper when an Associated Press news brief caught my eye.

William Calley had apologized for My Lai.

But telling you all was not enough. Doing a proper job meant telling the person who was (is) the reason I knew about My Lai. I e-mailed him later and got this reply:


Thanks for sending this -- I plan to use it in my American Lit class!

Dr. S

I had also e-mailed my former adviser and Early American Literature teacher when my Anne Hutchinson diary was rescued. She'd told me about her. I'd done my final project on her.

So much for being sloppy and getting a 79 on a grade school English test. (Everyone has that friend who remembers a lot. It's annoying when you think you're right, but when you don't have Internet access, being near that know-it-mostly is convenient.)

Doing a proper job has been getting me jobs for about seven years. But before I understood how much work it meant, not doing a proper job got me accepted to a midtier university and with no financial aid.

Two years and change later, not doing a proper job got me booted for not doing homework, not going to class, any of it.

Years later, doing a proper job meant using that experience as a strength in a job interview -- understanding that being good at something is not enough; you have to do the work as well.

Got the job. Moved my seven-months-pregnant wife from Texas, where we had no family, to Virginia, where we have piles.

Some months before we moved, I e-mailed my father, who had given me two winning sports teams to root for -- the Indianapolis Colts a few years before they drafted Peyton Manning, the Atlanta Braves the season they started being in the playoffs every year -- to ... muse.

I have a daughter.

Processing Peyton's move is coming far more easily. Processing that I
have a daughter ... is going to take longer.

To which he said:
Damn straight!!!!!  Halleluia!
This was his quarterback. He had two: Unitas and Manning. Everyone else was a football player, but not his.

But even as his quarterback of fourteen years was moving on, he could think of nothing but me. That wasn't even him embodying doing a proper job. That was him. His e-mail signature ended with the names, birthdays and birth weights of his grandchildren.

Appropriate, considering his life was his children. Someone needed to be at home for the four of us after school and before school and -- because four kids have headaches and colds and such -- during school. And since he was making less money as a nurse than my mother as not a nurse, and since he wanted to be home with us, he stayed home.

Funny thing about having a nurse watch over you. ... medical concerns aren't as serious because my father knew what he was doing. When a medical anything happened, it was a case, not "oh my baby's bleeding."

One night, I turned on a burner and positioned a metal fork near it so the tines would heat up. After a minute or so, I turned the burner off and, curious about the heat, touched the fork with the fingertips on my left (dominant) hand.

Instant blisters. I withdrew my hand in horrible pain and peeled the blistered skin off like it was only barely hanging on.

Minutes later, holy fuck did my fingers hurt. I showed the hand to my father, who quickly put neosporin and band-aids on my fingertips.

No lecture. No anger. Medical care. My face told him I knew I shouldn't have done it. My fingers told him I needed care first.

All he ever did was put us first.

Along the way, my father had to have back surgery twice. The second surgery, in 2002 or so, was to repair a herniated disk. He was walking the second day after the surgery, which apparently isn't common.

Also not common: fibromyalgia. Less common: fibromyalgia in men. (One doctor diagnosed him with not fibromyalgia. Every other doctor said he had it. Three guesses which side I'm on.)

Common painkiller in 2002: oxycontin. Common painkiller with then-unknown ability to get people addicted: oxycontin.

He weaned himself off the stuff once he realized he was addicted. He got prescriptions for other drugs. They dulled the pain to only around sixty to seventy percent of what it would have been.

Pain's pretty good at keeping people awake, so he went on a sedative. Then vitamins and glucosamine and the total eventually got to I think seventeen pills.

As the years went on, something he'd said not long after he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia took pretty thick root.

He was done living aside from being here for his family and because God didn't approve of suicide. And it wasn't the crazy "Jesus is talking to me through that oscillating fan" belief. I've met two Christians who were witnesses to the faith by simply existing. He was one, and Dave Wilbur was the other.

Daddy loved Jesus and his family, only Jesus was part of his family. Every Easter,  like he wept because Jesus had died again like he wept when our dogs died. Some years I thought it was cruel to make him suffer through Jesus dying again. But it had to be.

He was those tears.

As the years went on, fibromyalgia wore on his body and his mind. He lost the feeling in his feet, and he wasn't as fair to a lot of people as he would have been. He'd e-mail me talking about some thinly sourced story about whatever. His body was 50, but his mind was 75 and angry.

Do a proper job.
Mostly he was in pain and not thinking clearly. His prescription tranquilizer meant that clouded thinking was more common than he wanted.

The man had graduated from Georgetown. He wasn't like this. The drugs did it. So when he called one politician a sociopath, I knew it was the pain.

Doing a proper job meant helping him understand the spin behind the words, or the story not being told. It meant a few minutes, usually at work, researching the story to find out that the situation with the 13-year-old girl was not that bad.

Or when it was that bad, it meant reminding him of what happens when child rapists go to prison.

More years came, and the pain got worse. When my mother wasn't there, it was worse. But driving to see us was two hours in a vibrating car. He always wanted to go to whatever relative's birthday party or holiday gathering, but sometimes he physically wasn't up to it.

He wasn't up to my daughter's first birthday party, which was a few months ago. And he wasn't up to Thanksgiving, about two months later.

He wanted to be there for both like he wanted his children to be healthy, but it just wasn't happening.

So on Thanksgiving, he took his medication at home and went to bed.

The morning after Thanksgiving, I got a call from my mother.

He had died in his sleep. The medical examiner ruled it as cardiac arrest. I suspect he took too many sleeping pills.

My sisters knew he'd died. One of them was with my mother, generally making sure she could think past how to butter bread with her husband having died hours ago.

But my brother was in Montana, which is not known for its cell phone reception.

Do a proper job.
Then I saw him online:
call mama
I have work in five minutes
call mama
what happened?
call mama
I have to go to work. I cannot call Mama.
daddy is dead

In South Texas, I edited obituaries for four and a half years, so when my caretaker sister called an hour or so later, she asked if I could write the obituary.

Since I can type flawlessly if I don't have to do numbers or unusual symbols, I was pretty sure I could do it. Piles of seething pain later, the first draft was functional.

We left for my parents' house the next day to start cleaning and generally do what families do when someone dies.

And so now, with the body certainly gone to be burned -- the organs not suitable for transplanting and the body not a good specimen for a dissection -- I was driving toward an absence. I had driven away from them, but not toward them.

I pulled into the driveway -- a grassy area with some gravel -- two numb hours later and saw my sister coming out of the house. I managed to park and get out of the car.

My baby sister, 30 years old, was standing with her arms out an inch and a mile away, reddened face affirming it.

We teleported to each other, landing softly in each other's arms and chests and shirts and shoulders. Our feet might have been involved for the sake of appearance.

I hadn't sobbed like that since our mother had stood before us more than 100 miles away 17 and a half years before to tell us that our Grandaddy -- my father's father -- had died of terminal cancer.

I'd cried when my daughter was born, but I'd controlled the sobs so three floors of people wouldn't hear. I'd cried when I found out there was a baby. I'd cried when my friend had died. Movies, the Super Bowl, the Red Sox (several times), getting left before an altar was chosen.

I had controlled the sobs for almost 18 years. Now I was just gushing pain into her left shoulder.

Don't be sorry. I'm not.

I didn't get to say goodbye, but I've done "we expect [your relative] to die within [known length of time]." Gets to where you want the person to die just so you can stop waiting. You say goodbye, you leave for the night, and then in the morning, the person's still alive.

What torture.

My father lived knowing we knew how saturatingly he loved us. Amid the pain, he hugged as hard as he could, then released a little when the pain got too thick, then hugged harder after enough had subsided.

He loved us so much that it hurt.

He lived with that hug-crippling, sleep-killing pain for years.

We, his four children, all graduated from college(s) and got jobs. Five grandchildren.

He lived to see concerts and soccer games and awards and ordinary days, and he believed like he believed in God that we were the best of anyone.

He had raised us to do a proper job. We had done it.

He did a proper job. Now he is free of pain.

Originally posted to iampunha on Fri Jan 24, 2014 at 07:29 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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